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Photographs courtesy of Emily Broad

Dining in Durham: Farm-To-Table Economics

Local eateries in North Carolina contribute to the local economy while also reducing the emissions behind food

Durham, North Carolina is a vivid portrait of Southern charm and hospitality. Liquor stores close on Sundays and forbid the entrance of minors. Charming Greek and Gothic revival buildings sprawl across the downtown area, making it the quintessential small town in the Bible Belt. The old restored tobacco factories now house boutique stores, restaurants and university offices. An easy ten minute stroll will place you within reach of Duke University classrooms and research facilities. The lush vegetation will cover any nook and cranny not occupied by some picturesque token of Southern life.
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Southern U.S. states have historically been giants of the national economy. Powered by agricultural production and trade, these states have often been major contributors to the U.S. economy. Today, the region faces many political and economic issues, but remains the same economic powerhouse. Durham is a living example of the economic history of the South, with its impressive architecture, relics of the tobacco-fueled boom and the new wave of research buildings, universities and modern businesses.
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One of these modern businesses is the farm-to-table model for restaurants and grocery stores. All across North Carolina, businesses who use and sell locally-sourced ingredients and products have gained popularity. In Durham, called the foodie capital of the South, these restaurants contribute to the local economy and boost production for small farms.
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Farm-to-table businesses tend to stimulate the local economy, often limiting purchasing to small farms that surround the area. These small farms benefit from restaurants that source their materials from the area as they are usually unable to compete with large-scale producers and industrial farms for market share. The idea of farm-to-table dining is sometimes associated with elites and high prices, a food fad that prices food out of the hands of the lower classes.
Healthy foods are generally priced out of reach for a working-class salary. Supermarkets are flooded with prepackaged and processed foods produced at a large-scale to reduce production costs. Cheaper, and generally unhealthy options, are preferred by consumers with a tight budget.
Restaurants and businesses that source locally support a system in which local and small scale farmers find a market which they can control. These farmers, who often struggle to make ends meet, can then expand their operations and lower costs for other consumers.
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The farm-to-table model can also have positive effects for the environment. Industrial farming has come under fire many times for use of genetically modified organisms and pesticides that harm local species and the quality of the soil. In addition to growing organic produce, small farms can better control pests and insects without the need to employ large amounts of pesticides.
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Farm-to-table restaurants populate the food scene in Durham, offering a wide selection of products that boast locally sourced vegetables, fish and meat. They proudly promote their contribution to the local economy and their dedication to stimulating and supporting North Carolina producers.
Craft breweries, coffee houses and restaurants commit to not only helping and serving the local community but being socially responsible on a larger scale. Restaurants like Piedmont and Littler work with local farms. Famous coffee house Joe Van Gogh partners with foreign producers with a socially responsible agenda and local vendors to reduce carbon emissions.
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Beyond representing the stereotypical Southern town, Durham is also a beacon for the future of the region. Over the years, its economy has shifted from the old reliance on agriculture to technology, life sciences and green innovation. It now houses a Google Tech Hub, startup accelerators and multiple social entrepreneurship initiatives. Much like the UAE, steps have been taken to modernize an economy which formerly relied on an industry with a now unclear future in the face of climate change.
Mari Velasquez-Soler is Deputy Features Editor. Email her at
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